Rank Sergeant in the Army
I had just graduated from Bensalem High School and had a scholarship to go to art school. That summer I had a great job and I was putting money away for school. I had big dreams, but something was bothering me, the Vietnam War. I kept hearing that young men were fleeing off to Canada or enrolling in college just so they can avoid going into service for their country. One night I was watching television and it clicked, I have to go, I have to sign up. The very next day I reported to 401 N. Broad St Philadelphia and signed up. Before I went to sign up, I made sure I went and got a military haircut so I can look the part. Once I signed up they swore us in and called us to attention. A sergeant was standing in front of me, looked down at me and said, “You, put on these Sergeant stripes and get these men to the train station. They are going to Fort Gordon.”
I was delighted to hear that because my brother Walter was stationed there. He had also signed up months before me and unbeknownst to me, he had used my name to get in. Now both of us were stationed at the same fort. My brother had gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd and went to prison for about a year, but that didn’t stop him. He wanted to sign up for Vietnam and fight. Because of his background, he thought he wouldn’t be able to sign up under his name so he used mine thinking that I would never sign up since I had a scholarship to art school. Walt had done such a great job while he was there, the army wanted to send him to flight school to be a helicopter pilot, but then the news broke out that two brothers with the same name were stationed together. How could that be? My brother confessed and told the truth. They put him on hold but his commander fought for him to stay in. While all this was going on, I was in basic training. I had a lot to live up to because Walt was a tough little bastard. They did not cut me a break, but I was in great physical shape. I did well on the PT test scoring 500. I beat my brothers score by 25. Being younger than him, that made me happy. Well, they did change his name to his correct name and granted him permission to go to airborne school where he wound up in the 101st airborne in Vietnam. The army had a rule that no two brothers can serve in combat at the same time so I received orders to go to Korea where I stayed for almost a year.
One day, I was called in to see the first sergeant. He told me my brother was wounded and he was in Japan recovering. I immediately received my orders to go to Vietnam. I took a 30 day leave so that I can stop in Tokyo to see my brother. He had lost so much weight and looked horrible. I remember thinking, “what the hell am I doing?.” I then went home to see my mom and dad before I jumped on a plane to Vietnam. I remember the day I landed in Vietnam like it was yesterday. The plane was silent. The doors opened and you can feel the brutal hot air hit you in the face. You can see in everyone’s face the uncertainty but we were there to do a job. I was a sergeant and they needed someone in the Delta immediately. I was sent out within two days and I was in battle within four days. Being an artist, I always had my art portfolio with me. One of the commanders had seen it and asked me if I wanted to run the combat art program for the 9th Division. Of course I said yes. I was sent to every battle from there on and I was in charge of 5 other soldiers in the program. Sometimes I would be there before a battle started and sometimes after the battle ended.
Over the months, I started to know my way around. I quickly realized the real battles were being fought down in the Delta. I remember one night I was with a company and we were setting up camp for the night and I volunteered to go on point. A group of men and I would get in front of the company and set up claymore mines to try to intercept the enemy before they got to the company. I happened to fall asleep and I started dreaming in technicolor about fire and flames all over me and I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly, I woke up with a man alongside of me with his hand over my mouth. He said, “Sergeant the enemy is coming.” We started firing and our claymore mines started going off when the enemy got close. Then it settled down. The sun came up and it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. The company came up behind us checking to make sure we survived the night. The squad on the right side of me didn’t do so well. One young Sergeant had gotten in front of his men or us and we killed him during the night. I still remember us walking up to his body and we all started to cry. I remember that emotion like an explosion in my mind just rushing out of my head like a volcano. I think everybody was feeling the same thing. Then the enemy started firing at us again. The emotion that I was feeling at that moment retreated back like a vacuum cleaner sucking it back inside me. I hit the ground and crawled to the side of a dirt wall where they grew rice. I don’t know how to say it, but in an instant there was no feeling in my heart for that dead soldier anymore and thanked God that it wasn’t me. I can feel the explosions on the other side. I was getting some courage. I wanted to get up and kill the enemy. I had my weapon and I was ready to fire. I moved my head up slowly. It felt like a ton of bricks was on my shoulders. Every inch that I moved my head up the wall I could almost feel a bullet going between my eyes. I kept saying, “this isn’t like me. I’m a fighter and I have to fight.” To the left of me, I saw soldiers who had been in battle for days firing their weapon up in the air and not poking their head over the dirt wall so I did the same thing and started shooting my weapon up in the air. I felt powerful when I was shooting my weapon, I can feel it vibrate through my body. This battle went on for a while and the more it went on the braver I became. Then a helicopter appeared over our heads circling the air above us. I said to the guy next to me, “who is that crazy son of a bitch?” he said, “that’s our Colonel directing the battle from the air telling us to get our asses moving to assault the enemy.” I was later told that is was that Colonel’s fifth tour in Vietnam.
Well, there were many stories like this during my time in Vietnam and all I could say is when my tour of duty was up, I was so glad to have made it and head home to see my family. One of the first things I did when I got home was get myself a hamburger, fries, and a milkshake. I can honestly say one thing, I would do it all over again.